Taiwan election puts KMT’s China ties against evolving nationalist trends

Kuomintang (KMT) faces challenges with China ties, balancing historical roots, and other internal factions amidst the presidential election in Taiwan.

Leading up to Taiwan’s presidential election on January 13, the political stage in the country is dominated by the complex dynamics between the Kuomintang (KMT) and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), with the presence of China casting a significant shadow.

At the forefront of this political drama is the KMT, rallying behind presidential candidate Hou You-ih, and framing the impending election as a pivotal choice between the unsettling prospect of war and the pursuit of peaceful coexistence with China.

Within the KMT, a powerful faction known as the deep blue staunchly advocates for closer ties with China. This faction is largely comprised of descendants of the 1949 generation that fled China which maintains strong emotional ties to the mainland. However, the KMT faces an intricate balancing act as it strives to remain relevant to an electorate that is increasingly distancing itself from mainland China.

Complicating matters further is the economic reliance on China, as it stands as the largest buyer of Taiwanese exports. Many of these economic players, colloquially known as “taishang” or Taiwanese businessmen, form a traditional support base for the KMT.

The DPP contends that China seeks to influence Taiwan through a narrative framing the election as a choice given to the people for war or peace. Simultaneously, Beijing has labelled the DPP’s presidential candidate, William Lai, as a “separatist” and a “troublemaker.”

Hou You-ih, positioned as a “light blue” moderate, emphasizes safeguarding Taiwan’s democratic system in response to Xi Jinping’s vow of unification. Similarly, Jaw Shaw-kong, a ‘deep blue’ media personality, recently asserted the inherent differences between China and Taiwan’s political systems.

Amid these political manoeuvres, the KMT faces uncertainties about its ability to appease Beijing and ensure lasting peace. Scepticism arises from Beijing’s actions in Hong Kong, raising doubts about its willingness to commit to any promises.

As the election unfolds, the KMT remains torn between its historical roots as the Chinese Nationalist Party and the evolving sentiments of a Taiwan nationalist narrative.